Dan Satterberg Says Governor's Gutting of Medical Marijuana Bill Is Bad News for Patients

Like all impassioned activists, those in the medical marijuana camp sometimes engage in hyperbole. So it's been hard to know whether to believe those who claim that patients are now worse off than they were before a bill intending to help them was introduced in the legislature. It's not just activists saying that, though. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg tells Seattle Weekly that Governor Chris Gregoire's gutting of SB 5073 has "changed the status quo," and not for the better.

Satterberg, who supported SB 5073, calls attention to one of the few sections left standing after Gregoire's veto. That little-noticed section, 404 (see pdf of the bill), deals with what are termed "designated providers," that is the people who supply pot to patients.

Current law stipulates that designated providers must serve one person at a time. That sounds restrictive, but dispensaries have argued that they are doing just that, even if they supply pot to the next person 15 minutes later.

Section 404, however, requires that designated providers wait 15 days before giving cannabis to a new patient.

The provision was originally meant to apply only to unlicensed providers rather than dispensaries, which were to be regulated by the state. But since the governor took out the dispensary sections, the 15-day rule would apply to all providers.

"In many ways, this is much more restrictive than the current law," Satterberg says.

Frustrated by the mess this has created, the prosecutor says he has given up on a statewide medical marijuana system. "This is a very political diverse state," he notes, and Yakima shouldn't have to approach the issue the way Seattle does.

His solution: let each city or local jurisdiction decide whether or not it wants to allow dispensaries within its borders.

Satterberg communicated his view to Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the driving force behind SB 5073. In an interview with SW, she says she plans on introducing a bill that would allow local control in the next few days while the legislature is in special session.

The million-dollar question, of course, is whether Gregoire would go along with that. Kohl-Welles thinks she would, based on a letter she wrote to legislators last week explaining her veto. (See pdf.) In it, she contemplates "nonprofit cooperative organizations" that could distribute marijuana as long as they complied with "local government" rules and regs.

If such a bill passes and the guv goes along, Seattle would almost certainly give a thumbs up to dispensaries. City council members have already expressed their unanimous support for a dispensary system in a letter supporting Kohl-Welles' original bill.

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